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US Stands, and Lies, With Israel

By       Message Ira Chernus       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Truthout

(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t;
Adapted: Pete Souza, pbump)

"We stand by Israel," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declared, as he voiced the State Department's support for Israel's internal investigation of the attack on the flotilla bound for Gaza. Israel "has the institutions and certainly the capability to conduct a credible, impartial and transparent investigation," Crowley said.

Over at the White House they stand by Israel, too. Though the White House press release forgot to use that exact phrase, the rest of the words of praise from the highest level of the US government were much the same as the State Department's: Israel "is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation and the structure and terms of reference of Israel's proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation."

At the highest level of Israel's government, though, things look a bit different. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to persuade his cabinet to approve the commission he appointed to investigate the killings at sea. On the Israeli right, any kind of investigation looks like capitulation to hostile world opinion.

To blunt charges of weakness, Netanyahu started off the cabinet meeting insisting that the whole purpose of the investigation is to prove that the Israel Navy operation and the ensuing investigations were appropriate and met international standards: "The government decision will make it clear to the world that Israel is acting legally, responsibly and with complete transparency."

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"Two principles guided us," Netanyahu said. His first principle was "maintaining the freedom of IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers to act and the credibility of the IDF investigation." To that end, Netanyahu told the cabinet that the committee he is appointing will not be able to talk with IDF soldiers, as any international investigating body no doubt would. The Israeli panel will have to rely on summaries of the IDF's own investigations and an interview with IDF Chief of Staff (and one of Israel's most powerful political figures) Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi.

Israel's civilian politicians are typically afraid of the political power of the military. So, their first rule is never to limit or impinge on the freedom of the IDF. That means letting the IDF investigate itself and then rubber-stamping the results.

The second principle, Netanyahu told his cabinet, is "giving a credible and convincing response to the responsible states in the international community." Before meeting with his cabinet, Netanyahu addressed a gathering of his Likud Party and decoded those words. He assured his followers bluntly that he was appointing the committee only to appease the international community.

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The editors of Israel's most respected newspaper, Ha'aretz, got it righ t: The panel is "aimed at appeasing the world, in particular the United States. Its authority is too limited to conduct a real investigation and its makeup raises the suspicion that it is designed more as a public-relations tool than to properly examine the events and reveal the responsible parties." It offers only "the deceptive appearance of a real investigation."

Another Ha'aretz editorial, denouncing the charade as "a farce" and "a whitewash," pointed out that the panel will have no real powers, not even those of a government probe, and that the head of the panel, retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Tirkel, "does not believe in such a panel." In an interview, he "made clear that he is not a devotee of drawing conclusions about individuals and dismissing those responsible for failures."

Tirkel also opposed having foreigners on the panel. But to give the appearance of transparency, there will be two. One of them, David Trimble, a Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is a co-founder of a new initiative called "Friends of Israel" - along with neocon John Bolton and an eminent Likudnik, Dore Gold.

For all these reasons, as Ha'aretz concluded, the panel is bound to fail both at finding the truth and at appeasing the international community. It will be obvious to anyone watching closely that the investigation is intended to substitute appearance for truth, that the results of the investigation have already been determined in advance.

When truth disappears, all that's left is lies. So, if the US stands with Israel on this matter, as the State Department says, it stands with an Israeli government that seems ready to lie.

There's a similar move brewing in Congress, this one aimed at discrediting the flotilla movement by keeping all its participants out of the US because they are "terrorists." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are circulating a bipartisan letter calling on Obama to put the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) on the US "terrorist" list.

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At a press conference pushing this effort, Rep. Eliot Engel justified Israel's blockade of Gaza and its attacks on ships trying to break the blockade, using the familiar mantra: "The United States must stand with Israel as it seeks to carry out legitimate acts of self-defense." "Legitimate acts of self-defense" will surely be the conclusion of the Israeli probe, too.

But defense against what? What is it, exactly, that the US is standing with? Netanyahu has an answer, one that wraps all the particular distortions of truth inside one big overarching lie. To his cabinet, he said that the flotilla "was not a one-time thing. We find ourselves in the midst of a difficult and continuous battle against the State of Israel. The flood of hate is being led by Israel's enemies all over the world. They are trying to pinch us with the metal pinchers of missiles and terror and revoke Israel's right to defend itself."

In his talk to Likud, Netanyahu put it in a broader and more dramatic historical frame. "There is a difficult and continuing struggle against Israel being led by the country's enemies.... Dark forces from the Middle Ages are raging against us," he warned ominously.

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Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of

Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.

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